Holidays From Hell

Question: What do people do to relax and unwind?
Answer: They go on holiday.

Question: What do widows do get stressed-out and wound-up?
Answer: They go on holiday.

I think it is safe to say that going on holiday alone, or alone with children in the early months of widowhood, is the most desolate and unpleasant experience imaginable. I can remember every second of my first holiday alone with the girls with painful clarity – and I wasn’t even alone, I was with Charlie’s family. But that didn’t matter to me; it was only three months after Charlie’s death and it was far too soon. Every single experience on that holiday, which would have at once been pleasurable and evocative, became detestable. Only the happiness of my girls brought me any respite from the black cloud that shadowed every balmy day.
When we first arrived at our French holiday home I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape, and then immediately overwhelmed by the knowledge that Charlie wasn’t there to see it with me. I knew he would have loved it; I knew that he would have taken over the kitchen and busied himself, rustling up something delicious for supper, whilst we all sat on the shady terrace with a glass of wine and watched the sun setting over the distant hilltops.
But none of that was going to happen.
I was seeing it alone. I had nobody to share the sights and the smells and the resonance of the place. By day, with Charlie’s family and my children, I was alone. At night, whilst a thunderstorm lit up the shuttered darkness like a million flashbulbs, I was alone.I felt I should enjoy the holiday for the sake of my children, but all I wanted to do was get in the car and drive back to where I felt safe and protected.
When at last the holiday was over and I could return home, I vowed that it would be a long time before I ventured abroad again. And of course it was foolish to do that, because getting away from everything that helps you to feel safe and secure, is part of finding out about your strength and your ability to cope with the reality of widowhood.
My advice would be to wait a while before you venture out on holiday. If you can establish some sort of structure at home, then you will find it much easier to cope with the uncertainties of being a single traveller. When you feel ready to face it, getting away by yourself is great – but getting away when you are a widow is not always easy to do. Finding somebody to look after your children for a week is quite a tall order, but if you have friends or family who are willing to help you, then a week’s respite from your responsibilities will do you a power of good.
But where do you go and what do you do?
Well, the Sunday papers are full of adverts for holidays for the single traveller. It is up to you which of these you investigate, but generally speaking, you can be as active or as inactive as you like. Personally speaking, I would rather cover myself in jam and sit on a termite mound than go on a trekking holiday, but many people enjoy that sort of thing. I love scuba diving, because it doesn’t involve stout boots or facial hair, but I know that many people find the though of putting on a mask and going underwater to a depth of 30 metres totally abhorrent. What you choose to do is entirely up to you, as long as you feel safe and happy doing it, and there aren’t too many weird people doing it with you.
I have been scuba diving in the Red Sea on a couple of occasions, which was excellent fun and good value for money. You will find lots of single travellers and many fits blokes on a diving holiday – if you are lucky. If, like me, you expect to find a handsome instructor and lots of single men to buddy-up with, then you might be disappointed. On my first trip I found a lady instructor called Freddie Pickles, lots of couples, and when I got in the water, a rather nasty and aggressive Titan Trigger fish, which bit right through my fin and then chased me all the way back to the boat.
None of these experiences fitted with the cosy image I had of spending hot, lazy days on a dive boat, being chatted up by handsome strangers – but I did come away from the trip with my P.A.D.I Open Water qualification, and a love of diving. The next year I went again and I had a real blast. I got in with a group of divers who were mostly solo travellers, and we went out together every night and had a really wonderful time. I still had the inevitable awkward question to field, but instead of being tongue-tied, when a diving chum asked if I had left my husband at home, I just looked at him and said,
‘Yes – because he died three years ago and that makes it a bit difficult to bring him with me.’
I have learned a lot from going on holiday on my own. It takes a lot of courage, but then if you don’t try, you never get to test just how far you have come. I’m not going to try to tell you any of this is easy – it isn’t. There have been many times when I wanted to feel happy about where I was, and whom I was with, but all I could feel was,
‘ Why isn’t he here to share it with me?’
It makes you cry with frustration and loneliness, but it does get better in time.
I have travelled a long way, and not just on aeroplanes. I have set myself difficult tasks and watched myself grow with the completion of each one. You might not feel confident enough to contemplate travelling alone, and I would certainly not recommend even thinking about doing so for at least a year after being widowed, but thinking about going away alone is half the battle. Whether you choose to travel alone or in a group of solo travellers, you will be taking the first steps on the road to independence. Nobody wants to be alone; it is depressing and soul-destroying to look at a calendar and see nothingness stretching ahead of you, but if you have something positive to look forward to, and something to work towards, you are less likely to dwell on the negative aspects of your life.

Going away with children is a different thing entirely. Basically, as a rule of thumb, expect all mainstream travel companies to penalise you for being a widow – as if you didn’t have enough to deal with. Even the ones that say they have special offers for single parents, make up the extra money on the discount they have been so very generous in giving you, by charging you a single supplement on your room for each day of your stay. They are quite blatant about it, in a sneaky and underhand way- (it’s all hidden in the small print, if you know where to look). I found out about the dubious practices of holiday companies when I took Rosie and Alice abroad with Thomson Holidays last year. When I got to the hotel I discovered that I was paying £300 more than a couple with one child, who were staying in exactly the same type of accommodation for the same amount of time.
How does that work?
My advice is to be very careful when choosing who you book with, and don’t expect them to feel sorry for you and offer you a discount just because of your circumstances.
Booking the holiday is only the first problem that you will encounter. The journey, be it by ferry, car, rail or plane, will be stressful and tiring. When you have nobody to share the driving or help you with all the mundane essentials, life becomes extremely difficult. Even a simple task like taking one of your children to the bathroom will become almost impossible.
Where do you leave the luggage trolley? What do you do with your other children? How do three smalls and a mother all fit into one cubicle?
Well, the answer is you learn only through trial and error. I can guarantee that you will find the whole thing a complete nightmare from start to finish, and you will definitely need a holiday at the end of it.
Holidays with your children are like weekends – magnified tenfold. Every widow knows how hateful it is to spend two days trying to entertain the children, whilst all around you are happy fathers, doing happy things with their happy children. I felt angry and lost and alone every weekend for at least two years. I am able to deal with it a lot better now, but holidays bring back all those feelings that I spend so much time trying to suppress. On holiday you have to be around men; men who are making a special effort to be perfect fathers, and that will make you feel very jealous, and will make your children feel the loss of their own father even more acutely.
But you have to bite the bullet eventually. You know your children deserve a break, and it’s only for a week or two, and how hard can it be?

Very hard…

If you have booked into a hotel on your own, the days will be spent by the pool or on the beach, which isn’t really too difficult to cope with. But there will be one nagging fear, which will pervade your happy holiday state of mind – and that is:
What do I do once the children are in bed?
The answer is that you have to walk into a packed dining room alone, sit down alone, eat alone and leave alone. I have done it, and in terms of memorable dining experiences, it’s way up there with eating a bad oyster and being stuck next to a man who told me he was ‘in lubricants’ and spent his spare time as a small- gauge railway enthusiast.
This summer, for instance, I sat in a dining room at a table for two and ate my supper alone. I felt fine until I noticed the unwelcome attentions of a German woman who was seated at the next table. She stared at me for the entire meal, and for the whole of that meal I was looking out at the sunset, trying my best to ignore her, but willing her to choke on a big, fat olive stone.
It wasn’t so hard, but I couldn’t have done it a year ago. Everything takes time, and some things take an awful lot of courage; so don’t do anything that you don’t feel brave enough to take on. Don’t go abroad if you can’t face it, or you can’t afford it. Do something simple, like taking the children camping. Even if it’s just in the back garden, I can assure you that they will see it as a big adventure; they won’t care where they are, as long as they have you to share the experience with them.
Give it time, and in time, even your holidays will seem like a walk in the park.
But weekends will always suck.